MontCo Judge to Roxborough Defendant: Turn Over Your Facebook Password
Judge William Carpenter's ruling in a case stemming from an alleged 2010 assault puts the county's Court of Common Pleas in the middle of a national debate over the privacy of social media accounts.
A 2010 recreation league soccer game has placed a Montgomery County judge on the cutting edge of national privacy law.
Common Pleas Court Judge William R. Carpenter ordered Matthew Urbanovich Feb. 27 to give his Facebook login credentials to Nicholas Gallagher so that Gallagher's attorneys could look for information that would bolster Gallagher's civil lawsuit against Urbanovich, for whom court filings list an address in Roxborough.
Gallagher, who, according to court filings, lives in King of Prussia, is seeking damages from Urbanovich after a March 2010 soccer game in Wayne which Urbanovich allegedly punched Gallagher and broke his nose.
Urbanovich was arrested by Upper Merion police for the assault about a week after the soccer game. An attorney for Urbanovich told The Legal Intelligencer that he subsequently pled guilty to a summary citation stemming from the incident.
Gallagher's lawsuit states that as a result of the altercation, he "has in the past and will in the future continue to experience… chronic, disabling pain" and that he will have to undergo reconstructive surgery, leading to lost wages and medical expenses. He is seeking unspecified damages in excess of $50,000.
See Gallagher's original complaint against Urbanovich in this article's PDF section.
In his February 27 ruling, Carpenter ordered Urbanovich not to delete any information from his Facebook account and gave him until mid-March to provide his login credentials to Gallagher. Carpenter told Gallagher's attorneys that they had seven days to review the contents of Urbanovich's Facebook account.
The legality of turning over Facebook login credentials to someone other than the account holder is a grey area. Facebook said last month that it could seek legal action against employers who demand that job applicants provide their Facebook passwords during the hiring process. This past weekend, the Maryland Legislature passed a bill banning employers from asking for the social media passwords of job applicants and employees. Similar bills are pending in several other states.
How Judge Carpenter's ruling in Gallagher v. Urbanovich will impact this emerging area of law is not immediately clear. According to The Legal Intelligencer, Carpenter is the fourth judge in Pennsylvania to allow a "probe" of a Facebook account during legal discovery, while five other judges denied attorneys' requests for that access.
Christopher Horn, an attorney for Urbanovich, said that he asked the court for the review of Urbanovich's Facebook account to be "supervised" but that the court declined the request.
Gallagher's attorneys declined to comment to The Legal Intelligencer about the results of their search of Urbanovich's Facebook account.